Lead Powerhouses Head ‘Evita’ at Cygnet Theatre

History and musical theatre enthusiasts, rejoice! Cygnet Theatre has officially opened Evita, the beloved musical following Argentine political leader Eva Perón from her humble beginnings as an aspiring young actress to her death as spiritual leader of her nation. Originally ideated by Andrew Lloyd Webber and lyricist Tim Rice as a rock opera, the show runs at Cygnet’s Old Town Theatre through October 1.

A survey of this acclaimed figure’s life, Evita is shared through the eyes of omniscient narrator Ché (a union laborer often crafted as a reflection of Marxist revolutionary Che Guevara). Audiences witness Eva’s affair with tango singer Agustín Magaldi as a means of transport to Buenos Aires, her not-so-chance meeting with future husband Juan Perón at a charitable event, their eventual rise to power in their country, their years in office, and Eva’s eventual decline into illness. 

Eva arrives in Buenos Aires and sings with the locals.

The cast of Evita at Cygnet Theatre. Photo credit Karli Cadel.

This rendition, directed by Sean Murray, features Ariella Kvashny in the titular role of Eva, Berto Fernandez as Juan Perón, AJ Mendoza as Ché, and Matthew Malecki Martinez as Magaldi/ensemble, and all four of these performers are dynamic and talented in their given roles.

In particular, Kvashny’s commanding belt and stage presence do justice to the politician and actress, and her choices help highlight the ways in which Eva manipulates her situations to rise to the top. On the other side of the coin, Fernandez’s Perón is alternately passionate and tender and his voice resonant. Martinez, who previously played the role of Magaldi in the national tour, is a surprisingly sympathetic character with a beautiful and lyrical approach to “On This Night of a Thousand Stars.” And, while I didn’t agree with all of the skulking blocking and character choices that Mendoza was given as narrator Ché, his tenor is clear and artful.

Magaldi serenades the town while on a tour.

Matthew Malecki Martinez and cast of Evita at Cygnet Theatre. Photo credit Karli Cadel.

The leading quartet is joined onstage by a modestly sized ensemble with some standouts. The ensemble features Susana Cafasso Alvarado, Augusto Guardado, Justin Lunsford, Daisy Martinez, Sebastian Montenegro, Vanessa Orozco (doubling as the Mistress), Brian Osuna, Liliana Rodriguez, Tamara Sofia Rodriguez Mehl-Mchugh, Matthew Ryan, Jazz Ruiz, and Lucy Santos (also appearing as young girl). The cast also includes swings Domo D’dante and Natalia Hil and covers Julia Celano (Eva) and Matthew Malecki Martinez (Ché).

Accompanied by a live band under the music direction of Patrick Marion, Evita admittedly has some syncing up still to do. While the music is well played and sung, there were some disconnects with syncopation and sound balance (Evan Eason). There are a few places throughout the production (“Buenos Aires,” “The Art of the Possible,” and ”Peron’s Latest Flame” come to mind) where tonal balance and timing weren’t quite as locked in yet. 

Eva sings from the balcony to her new constituents.

Berto Fernandez and Ariella Kvashny in Evita at Cygnet Theatre. Photo credit Karli Cadel.

Furthermore, the minimalist stage, framed by spanning beams, is a perfect blank canvas for a production that ranges times and places like this one (Mathys Herbert) and that features an expansive tech plot including integrated LEDs (Amanda Zieve) and projections (Blake McCarty). On the other hand, the space seems nearly cavernous in some of the crowd scenes. This impression, I believe, is exacerbated by simplistic blocking and choreography (Carlos Mendoza) in full cast numbers which include continuous looping, in-place footwork, and alternating rows. Analytically, I was left wondering if a larger cast of ensemble players might have served to fill the stage space and round out vocals on the ensemble numbers.

Che sings alongside the actors in Evita.

A.J. Mendoza and the cast of Evita at Cygnet Theatre. Photo credit Karli Cadel.

I also found costumes for the show (by Zoë Trautmann with wigs and makeup by Peter Herman), while period appropriate and well intentioned, to be less well fitted than I’d hoped. During the production that I saw, Eva adjusted her apparel onstage several times, a couple of wigs were askew, and military jacket torsos and sleeves lacked the meticulousness and consistency to be expected of a corps of decorated soldiers. While nitpicky perhaps in pointing out, they serve as a reminder that details matter and, when missed, can detract from the execution of the larger story.

On a side note, during the performance that I attended, there was a very disruptive altercation in the audience between a few patrons. At one point, this argument (which happened during “Don’t Cry for Me, Argentina”) seemed to nearly come to blows over cell phone use and photos of the stage and other patrons. Despite the interaction, which caused significant distraction for in the house, there were no attempts made by staff to diffuse the situation. Upon leaving, I noticed that some patrons were anxious to be in the vicinity, and it was an great reminder of why it is so important for an organization to proactively handle disruptions impacting the physical and emotional wellbeing of those on the premises.

These things aside, I expect that audiences will love the charismatic, emotionally charged performances of the actors in this rendition. There is a lot to enjoy about being immersed in the epic legacy of a political icon set to a Tony Award-winning score.

Luckily for them, the production will run through October 1 in Old Town.

Read the program.

1 A B C D E G I J L M N O P Q R S T U W
Photo of Cygnet Theatre
Cygnet Theatre
Old Town Theatre 4040 Twiggs St. San Diego CA 92110 Work Phone: (619) 337-1525 Website: Cygnet Theatre website
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  1. Ken Herman on August 22, 2023 at 9:54 am

    There is no doubt that “Evita” is the most operatic of Lloyd Webber’s stage musicals. I attended Cygnet’s production 2 nights before it opened, and in my opinion Matthew Malecki Martinez was the only lead who was up to the musical demands of this score. His “On the Night of a Thousand Stars” was stunning. Unfortunately, Ariella Kvashny as Eva Perón spent most of the evening attempting to shriek her way through her assertive songs–her shrill vocal quality in her upper range made me wish I had brought earplugs to the performance!

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